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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

5 DOMESTIC SMART DEVICES THAT ARE SPYING ON YOU RIGHT NOW


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5 Domestic Smart Devices That Are Spying On You Right Now
By Dan Price,
Make Use Of, 30 March 2015.

A couple of weeks ago we experienced a media-wide furore over Samsung’s smart TVs potentially recording all your privately spoken words, with the company’s privacy policy advising owners not to disclose “personal or other sensitive information [because] that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Although Samsung quickly moved to quell fears by telling users that they could deactivate voice recognition or disconnect their TVs from their Wi-Fi network, the very fact that a such clause was inserted into the privacy policy in the first place should be disconcerting, if not downright frightening.


Smart TVs are far from being the only offenders, however. With Facebook recording our every click, Google tracking us around the web, and smartphones saving our locations on a worryingly frequent basis, we are increasingly living in an Orwellian dystopia. The advent of the smart home and the Internet of Things (IoT) is only exacerbating the problem, and there are now so many devices spying on us that they’re becoming ubiquitous.

Here we look at some of those devices, along with what exactly they’re recording, and who’s benefitting:

1. Sense


What is it?

Manufactured by Hello, the Sense device claims to be “the first system for understanding your sleep and bedroom.” It comes in two parts - a bedside device which monitors external factors such as noise, light, temperature, humidity and particles in the air, and a “Sleep Pill” which attaches to your pillow and monitors your movements and the quality of your sleep by using an accelerometer and gyroscope. It was one of the most-backed Kickstarter projects of last year.

Why should you be concerned?

The bedside device contains an “always-on” microphone, with all audio sent back to Sense’s cloud for easy playback by its owners. While eight hours of snoring might not be very interesting, there are an untold number of reasons why this is a privacy nightmare, with anything from personal details to the sound of two consenting adults being put into a space that the owner has no control over.

Most worrying? A glance at Hello’s privacy policy shows that the company takes no responsibility when it comes to deleting your information, saying:

“You agree that Hello has no responsibility or liability for the deletion of or failure to store any data or other content maintained or uploaded by the service.”

It means that if you accidentally discuss your finances, reveal your personal data, or discuss other sensitive topics, that audio could be stored in the cloud for a long, long time.

2. LG Smart ThinQ Fridge


What is it?

It’s that thing in the corner of your kitchen that you keep food (or drink) in…!

On a serious note, the LG Smart ThinQ fridge aims to take over everything to do with cooking and preparing meals. It’ll tell you what’s inside it, help to create shopping lists, inform you when expiration dates are approaching, suggests recipes, sync with your smartphone, and even tell you the weather.

Why should you be concerned?

In order to function effectively, smart fridges need to connect to your Wi-Fi network, and that means that they can be commandeered by hackers and criminals. In fact, Dawn Meyerriecks, the Deputy Director of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology recently told the Aspen Security Centre Forum in Colorado that “Smart refrigerators have been used in distributed denial of service attacks,” and claimed that “At least one smart fridge played a role in a massive spam attack last year, involving more than 100,000 Internet-connected devices and more than 750,000 spam emails.”

This raises wider concerns about security within the Internet of Things. The nature of the sector means access points are going to grow exponentially over the coming years, and while a typical home user might currently have less than ten access points that need to be secured, the IoT could expand that number into the hundreds. Without adequate security, everything from your fridge to your in-car entertainment system could become a potentially exploitable route into your personal data and information.

3. MyLink

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What is it?

MyLink is a product by American car manufacturer Chevrolet that aims to turn a normal vehicle into a smart vehicle. It provides drivers with hands-free control of the hi-fi, an ability to access phone contacts, and access to SiriusXM. That’s all great. What’s less great from a privacy perspective is its built-in data grabber, enticingly called “Valet Mode with Performance Data Recorder.”

Why should you be concerned?

“Valet Mode” allows you to monitor you own car remotely, while the “Performance Data Recorder” tracks data such as GPS location, speed, RPM, gears, and distance driven. The concerning part is that its privacy policy entitles Chevrolet to profile driving activity and sell it in an “anonymous and aggregated form” to third parties - meaning other companies will have access to how and where you drive. Could this information eventually find its way into the hands of the police? Possibly. For example, is it that hard to imagine cloud-based speeding tickets in the not-to-distant future?

4. iSmart Alarm


What is it?

The iSmart Alarm is a cloud-based, real-time, “intelligent”, home security system. It was founded out of Silicon Valley back in 2012 and has gone on to win multiple awards from publications such as CNet and PC Mag. It offers on-demand video streaming from around your home, control of all your electrical outlets, instant notifications of intruders, control over your lighting, and remote control management of the system.

Why should you be concerned?

The idea of streaming video of your empty house to the Internet should instantly ring alarm bells. Where is the data stored? Who has access to it? Could criminals determine your movements to establish a pattern of whether or not you’re at home? Would the alarm manufacturer also be notified if you got a notification about an intrusion?

Concerns of this nature extend to all “smart systems” in the home. For example, would the manufacturer of a Wi-Fi based entertainment system be able to get information about your choice of audio? Would energy companies ultimately get access to data provided by your smart thermostat, allowing them to hike their rates if they know you’re using the air conditioning?

5. Xbox Kinect


What is it?

Xbox Kinect is an add-on for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console. It uses a camera to monitor and record a player’s movements, enabling them to both interact with Windows, games and issue spoken commands. It was originally Microsoft’s response to the popularity of the Nintendo Wii, but has since become an integral part of Microsoft’s entertainment product suite.

Why should you be concerned?

Originally, it was Microsoft’s intention to make it an “always-on” device, but users were not happy. It’s no surprise, and it’s all because of the power of the device’s camera. As the company itself boasts:
“Microsoft’s Xbox One system has a high-definition camera that can monitor players at thirty frames per second. Using a technology called Time of Flight, it can track the movement of individual photons, picking up minute alterations in a viewer’s skin colour to measure blood flow, then calculate changes in heart rate. The software can monitor six people simultaneously, in visible or infra-red light, charting their gaze and their basic emotional states.”
Are you comfortable with Microsoft knowing your emotional state at any given moment? Probably not…

Who is Benefiting?

As with almost everything privacy related, two main groups of people stand to benefit: advertisers and criminals.

While it is true that all the gadgets naturally aim to bring benefits to the user - be those entertainment benefits, practical benefits, or health benefits - all the gadgets we listed also offer clear benefits to manufacturers and advertisers. The manufacturer can collect user data and sell it to third parties, who can then use it to build up a consumer profile of your likes and dislikes - serving you differing adverts depending on your preferences, your mood, or what time of day it is. Ultimately, it means both parties are making a lot of money off your usage of their products.

A further consequence of all this connectivity is that criminals can also benefit. Home networks and company infrastructure can be hacked and exploited, identities can be stolen, and malware and computer viruses can be spread. Why do they do this? The same reason as the companies themselves. Money. Your data is hugely valuable in both the corporate world and criminal underworld. Legal and illegal groups are both willing to go to extreme lengths to get their hands on it.

Top image: Smart TV spying, via Which.co.uk.

[Source: Make Use Of. Edited. Top image added.]

10 REAL FLYING SAUCERS THAT NEVER REALLY LIFTED OFF


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Retro Fails: 10 Real Flying Saucers that Never Really Lifted Off
By Debra Kelly,
Urban Ghosts Media, 30 March 2015.

With so many reports of unidentified flying objects in the sky, it’s hard not to be at least mildly intrigued by the idea of ‘flying saucers’. We want to know what - and who - is out there, and there’s perhaps a little bit of us that wants to see it all for ourselves. But throughout the Cold War and earlier, a number of bizarre - and very terrestrial - attempts were made to build a range of craft that never quite took off, but may have helped fuel the many alien conspiracy theories that abound today. The latest instalment of our Retro Fails series delves into these vintage flying saucer-like designs.

10. Project 1794

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In the mid-1950s, the United States government was knee-deep in the middle of an incredibly ambitious - and pretty bizarre - plan. Project 1794, only declassified in 2012, was a collaboration between a Canadian aviation firm and the U.S. military, with the ultimate goal of building their own flying saucer that would revolutionize aircraft. At the time, there were a few mentions in the press about the Air Force’s attempts at designing a new type of aircraft that would lift off vertically - but the full plans were top secret.

The blueprints show what looks like the flying saucer to end all flying saucers. When you think of what was seen hovering over the streets and descending on terrified civilians in the 1950s, that’s what Project 1794 was trying to build.

The goals of the project were incredibly ambitious. Not only was the craft going to be capable of a vertical take-off, but it was going to have a flight ceiling of 100,000 feet (19 miles), and a top speed of 2,880 miles per hour - that’s Mach 4.

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The plans were cancelled by 1961. The craft that had the hopes of the nation riding on it could barely get off the ground, and when it did move, it had a top speed of about 35 miles per hour. Plans and blueprints had hoped that it would be capable of out-performing and out-manoeuvring anything that the Soviet Union had, giving the United States an incredible edge during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the design just never proved itself, and the plans for the project were relegated to the dark corners of storage facilities.

9. Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar

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Image: Bzuk, public domain

When those involved with Project 1794 were ready to make a real-life prototype of their craft, the result was the VZ-9 Avrocar. Named for the Canadian aviation firm, the Avrocar was, in theory, pretty wild.

Turbojet engines provided a circular, downward thrust that would allow the craft to rise directly off the ground; it would build up a cushion of air, floating at low altitudes and moving forward when the thrusters were re-aimed.

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Image: William “Bill” Zuk, public domain

The Avrocar was originally a Canadian-funded and researched invention that they had been working on since 1952. Not having any luck, the U.S. Air Force got involved by 1958, and a series of test flights were done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Unfortunately it was, of course, a bust. The cushion of air was only enough to support the craft while it was a few feet off the ground, and the second Avrocar prototype performed no better. When it rose more than a few feet off the ground, it would spin and roll out of control.

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Image: alvintrusty, cc-sa-3.0

Test pilots that worked on the project recall that the way it was designed went against everything they knew about making something that was aerodynamic and stable, and US$10 million into the project, it was ultimately scrapped. Pieces of the technology that was developed for the craft went elsewhere, though, with some of it going to an equally unlikely craft that’s used today to inspect bridges.

8. The Sack AS-6

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Image: via Luft ’46

Alien technology and the Third Reich - it’s the stuff of science fiction, conspiracy theory and of speculative movies, but like all good rumours, there’s a little bit of truth to it.

In 1939, Arthur Sack revealed his vision of an aircraft with a circular wing at a national contest. It was a fail, but Germany’s Air Minister was intrigued enough to encourage him to keep going with the idea. The resulting craft, the AS-6, was cobbled together in part from pieces of other craft, and it started testing runs in 1944.

The strange craft had the central structure of a more standard plane, but with the circular wing that went all the way around the body, it’s thought that it might have been the source of a good number of rumours that the Germans were experimenting with UFO technology.

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Image: via Luft ’46

The truth was much more mundane, though, but no more successful. The circular design of the wings on the plane made it incredibly unstable, and the original design didn’t have nearly enough power to get the plane anywhere near close to getting off the ground. Sack attempted to re-design the plane based on the results of the early tests, but sometime between its initial tests and 1945, the prototype was destroyed in an Allied bombing run. When Allies took Brandis airfield in April of 1945, no traces of the German saucer remained.

7. The Couzinet RC360 Aerodyne

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The Aerodyne was France’s entry into the realm of flying saucer-shaped aircraft, and, like its American counterparts, it was created with the goal of exploring the idea of a craft that could lift off vertically, and eliminate the need for a runway.

Its inventor was Rene Couzinet, who, by the age of 18, had already patented several aviation-related inventions. A member of the French Air Force, Couzinet was also the mastermind behind France first - but ill-fated - attempt at a transatlantic, commercial aircraft.

It was in the 1950s that he revisited an idea that had sparked his interest decades before - a craft that could take off like a helicopter but perform like an airplane. The result was the saucer-shaped Aerodyne, officially listed on the patent as the “Aerodyne with multiple wings.” The patent was only published in 1957, after his death, but it was an invention that wouldn’t live on.

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The only attempt at building the craft was a 3/5 scale model that was never intended to fly; especially since Couzinet hadn’t been successful in securing any kind of funding or support from the government. The design was largely inspired by the times - in 1950s France, there were reports after reports of UFOs and flying saucers, and it seemed to go hand in hand with his vision. At the same time he could design a revolutionary craft, he could capture the imaginations of his countrymen.

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Image: via LaesieWorks

The Aerodyne had six engines, which were designed to turn 96 small wings to provide the lift for the craft. Even though pretty much every official and aviation organization recognized it as a waste of time and money, the public and the media loved it. It was the “French flying saucer,” and optimistic journalists predicted that it was only a matter of time before scores of them were whizzing around the sky, replacing the more standard aircraft.

The story absolutely doesn’t have a happy ending. Even though the public was claiming it was the greatest advancement in aviation history, Couzinet himself was overwhelmed with debt. In 1956, he killed both his wife and himself.

6. The Astro Kinetics Flying Saucer

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We don’t really know that much about the design, and there’s not a whole lot of information out there on it. In July of 1963, Popular Science ran a photo and a short blurb on a craft that was in the process of being developed by Astro Kinetics in Houston. The craft was lifted by air pumped out of the top of the craft, directed over the saucer-shaped roof. The pressure from the air would cause the craft to rise - in theory, although how successful it was is debatable, as it wasn’t heard from again.

The science was based on the Coanda effect, named for a creator who had a pretty hairy career. Said to have first building a jet engine in 1910, his ideas and principles in aerodynamics got the attention of the British government in 1945. He had been living in Paris, and according to the story, the French thought he was a German collaborator. The British, though, recognized the merit in his ideas and got him off the hook.

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Image: via xplanes

The Coanda effect basically stated that a craft could be created with the capability of taking off vertically by using the scientific principle that when vented at a certain angle, air will cling to a surface and, channelled correctly, would allow a craft to rise and be steered by directing the flow of air. The problem, they admitted, came with making the craft stable; although the principles were explored in the Astro Kinetics experiments, just how far it went is clear in its relative disappearance.

5. EKIP

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Also called the Russian UFO and designed in the 1990s, EKIP is a fairly recent addition to the roster of flying saucer-inspired aircraft, and there still may be a chance (although it’s not for certain) that with a renewal of funding, we still might see EKIP get off the ground.

The saucer-like craft was designed not to have wings, but to, in theory, have a fuselage that acted as wings. Everything is contained in the central cabin, along with the passenger compartment. Its vertical take-off capability allows it to land on - and lift off from - water and ice as well as more conventional landing platforms. Similar to other crafts of its type, it would hover on a cushion of air and be steered by jets that could be adjusted during flight.

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According to the EKIP site - which is still up and running - the benefits of the craft are massive. In addition to not needing a runway, it has a massive carrying capacity, long range, and can be made to carry up to 1,000 passengers at one time. Operating and fuel expenses would be less than a traditional craft, they’re lighter, less complicated, and because the design allows them to get away from things like landing gear, less machinery means that there’s less things to keep up and less things to go wrong.

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For now, it seems that EKIP is on a back burner somewhere, but we’re hoping that it gets dug out of the closet one of these days and takes to the skies.

4. The Lenticular Reentry Vehicle

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Image: via Military.com

Not all documents relating to the U.S. military’s Lenticular Reentry Vehicle have been declassified, and it’s been suggested that the only reason something would still be considered top secret is that it’s still pertaining to an active military mission…which makes the once top-secret spacecraft even more intriguing.

The Lenticular Reentry Vehicle was an active project in the early 1960s. While it wasn’t even labelled top secret, it had a sort of double layer of protection and secrecy over it. One of the Pentagon’s “black budget” items, it was originally a part of another, less secretive project. The details remained classified until 1999, though, when it was finally released as a part of the Freedom of Information Act.

The craft was designed as an orbital craft capable of carrying a crew of four and four nuclear weapons. In theory, it would have been launched into orbit on the back of a multi-stage rocket, or, potentially, a NASA-researched rocket of its own. The mostly circular craft would have been divided into living sections and a weapons section, equipped with missiles that have now been banned by the various disarmament treaties signed into effect.

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Images: via Military.com

When the crew wanted to return to Earth, they would have used the craft’s rocket motor and had their descent slowed by a parachute; the design is similar to one that’s currently being researched for integration into the International Space Station.

Just how far into the project researchers got isn’t entirely clear. It is suspected, though, that there was at least some sort of flying prototype that had been constructed in Australia and was potentially the craft sighted in several reports of UFO encounters in the 1970s. Debris recovered from the explosion of an unidentified craft south of Brisbane was recovered, tested, and found to contain pieces of a strange, honeycomb design and chemical residue consistent with extremely high-temperature explosions.

3. British Rail’s Flying Saucer

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Image: Espacenet

In the 1970s, British Rail was looking at some pretty out-there ideas for the future of transportation. According to documents recently found at the European Patent Office, those plans included something along the lines of a nuclear-powered saucer.

The plans had been created by inventor Charles Osmond Frederick, and they were his answer to a request to design a ‘lifting platform’ for the company. The result looks a little bit more like something out of a science fiction novel, though; the saucer shaped craft has a passenger compartment on the top, and engines that were run via a nuclear fusion reaction that was started by lasers.

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Images: (composite photo) Richard Elzey, cc-4.0; British Rail

On one hand, it’s a pretty brilliant idea. According to the documents, it would have been incredibly affordable to run, and it would have been faster than anything else out there. It would have been excellent for long-distance travel, and it would have been, supposedly, a very smooth ride.

It would have been.

The drawbacks were pretty obvious, though, and its over-powered engines would have, in the end, had some limited usage. Just how destructive they had the potential to be was never explored, either, as the idea never made it past the planning stages and, eventually, the patents weren’t renewed.

2. Germany’s Early Flying Machine

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In 1898, Friedrich Alexander Jone applied for and secured a patent for improvements to flying machines.

It was mostly based on the shape, and according to the patent, most of the flying vessels that were being designed at the time were based on the shape of a bird. This one, however, was in the shape of something just as ancient but more often overlooked - the discus. He based his design on what he called the ‘discus of the ancients’, which he believed would be easier to control and fly than any other shape.

His discus sat on its edge, though, and was built around a lightweight frame that was steered by the use of a rudder. He also added the option for small wings, and suggested that some kind of electric generator be used to power the propulsion systems of the craft.

The patents diagram not so much the internal workings of the craft, but the physics of keeping it in the air and that would make it easier to control than other contemporary plans. While we obviously didn’t go along with his disk-shaped craft, it’s a pretty intriguing idea that makes one wonder just how long the idea of the flying saucer-shaped craft has been in our collective consciousness.

1. The Vought Flying Pancake

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Image: US Navy, public domain

The Vought V-173, affectionately, and perhaps unfortunately, nicknamed the Flying Pancake, was a little unlike a number of these other saucer-shaped craft, in that it was actually pretty successful and pretty fondly remembered. In 2012, an eight-year restoration project on the only craft ever made was finally completed, returning the strange-looking, mildly successful aircraft back to its World War Two condition.

The idea was developed with the exploration of a low-aspect ratio wing that would allow a craft to remain airborne while flying at slow speeds. And it was sort of a success.

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Image: US Navy, public domain

It made it debut flight on November 23, 1942, and over the next few years it successfully completed more than 190 flights, and logged 130 hours of flight time. Charles Lindbergh himself was at the controls for at least one of the flights, and its innovative design was an asset that added to its downfall. While it did just what they wanted it to be able to do, it wasn’t very practical in terms of service, maintenance and repairs. Its two giant propellers meant that when it was sitting on the ground, it was sitting at an angle with its nose in the air; that made the pilot look through the floor to see where he was going. The design also meant that the engines were buried in the fuselage, making it difficult to work on. That might not be an issue for a prototype, but any mass-produced craft needed to be easier to work on.

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Image: Eric Urban, cc-sa-4.0

The death blow to the craft came with the advent of the jet engine. It was the jet engine that was the next revolutionary thing in flight, and the Pancake fell by the wayside.

It wasn’t completely forgotten about, though. The flight-capable prototype was saved by the National Air and Space Museum, when it was carefully restored and loaned out to the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. Now, it’s a reminder of just how incredible innovation can be.

Top image: Army Avrocars depicted as "flying jeeps" in company literature. Credit: Bzuk, public domain.

[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited. Some links added.]

6 CRAZY SKILLS THAT PROVE GECKOS ARE AMAZING


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6 Crazy Skills That Prove Geckos Are Amazing
By Laura Geggel,
Live Science, 15 March 2015.

Geckos can hang by their toe hairs, scamper up walls and regrow their tails. They've even gone to space. Geckos are amazing creatures with a toolbox full of tricks that science is continuing to uncover.

Here's a look at six of their super skills and the science behind them.

1. Dewdrop cleaning

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Close-ups of the gecko’s skin. Credit: Journal of The Royal Society Interface.

How do dirty geckos take a bath? According to a new study, they lather up with dewdrops.

Geckos are covered with hundreds of thousands of tiny, hair-like spines that trap pockets of air to help repel water, according to the study, published in the April issue of the Journal of The Royal Society Interface.

When the scientists looked at gecko skin samples under a scanning electron microscope, they saw that these air pockets caused tiny water droplets to bounce like popcorn off of the lizard's skin. [Album: Bizarre Frogs, Lizards and Salamanders]

"If you have seen how drops of water roll off a car after it is waxed, or off a couch that's had protective spray used on it, you've seen the process happening," Lin Schwarzkopf, a professor of vertebrate ecology at James Cook University in Australia and one of the researchers on the study, said in a statement. "The wax and spray make the surface very bumpy at micro and nano levels, and the water droplets remain as little balls, which roll easily and come off with gravity or even a slight wind."

Earlier studies had shown that rolling droplets can clean the hydrophobic surfaces of leaves and insects, but this is the first time the phenomenon has been observed in a vertebrate, the researchers said. Each drop of water can help clear away dust and other small contaminants from the gecko, they found.

"They tend to live in dry environments where they can't depend on it raining, and this process keeps them clean," Schwarzkopf said in the statement.

2. Toe-hair acrobatics

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Setae on a gecko's foot. Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/Wikimedia Commons.

Geckos can scuttle up vertical surfaces and hang from ceilings because they can quickly switch the stickiness of their feet on and off, according to a study published in August 2014 in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Geckos have bulbous toes that are covered with hundreds of microscopic hairs known as setae, the researchers said. (The setae are different from the spines on their bodies that repel water.) Scientists had known that these lizards can get "sticky feet" when these hairs get close enough to a surface that van der Waals forces kick in. (Van der Waals forces are the combination of attractive and repulsive forces between molecules or between parts of one molecule.)

"A gecko, by definition, is not sticky - he has to do something to make himself sticky," study lead author P. Alex Greaney, a professor of engineering at Oregon State University, told Live Science in August. "It's this incredible synergy of the flexibility, angle and extensibility of the hairs that makes it possible."

The researchers made a mathematical model that explains how the setae work. The tiny hairs stick out at slanting angles, they found. If the hairs bend at an angle closer to horizontal, the surface area of the gecko's feet increases, providing a larger area to stick to surfaces and support their weight.

Setae are also flexible and allow a gecko to jump and change direction in a split second. If needed, setae can absorb energy and redirect it, allowing the gecko an expedient escape, according to the study.

3. The tail of the falling gecko

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Geckos gliding in a wind tunnel use their tails to keep themselves upright. Credit: PNAS (Copyright 2008).

Even with their amazing toe hairs, geckos sometimes take a spill. But a turn of their tail can help them land on their feet, according to a study from 2008.

Using a high-speed camera, researchers examined how geckos responded while walking on slippery vertical surfaces. On a non-slippery surface, the geckos held their tails in the air. But when they encountered a slippery patch, their tail leaned on the wall, "like an emergency fifth leg," the researchers told Live Science in 2008. [Video - Geckos' Talented Tails]

In a separate experiment, the geckos lost their toeholds on a platform. When each gecko fell, it turned its tail at a right angle to its body. Then, it rotated the tail to make the body rotate, the researchers found. When the gecko was right side up, it stopped rotating - a feat that took only about 100 milliseconds, the researchers found in the study, published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

4. Goodbye, tail

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Geckos shed their tails along pre-scored "cut lines" that enable them to quickly escape predators.
Credit: dominiqs/Flickr.

It's widely known that a gecko can regrow a lost tail. But it wasn't always clear why they lost their tails so easily. Now, researchers know that geckos have preformed "score lines" that help the tails detach if a predator grabs them from behind, according to a study from 2012.

Using high-powered microscopes, the researchers looked at the geckos' tails, and were surprised to find zigzag lines where the tail met the body. They also saw strange, mushroom-shaped structures that might supply the sticky forces needed to keep the tail attached until it's time to be ripped off, the researchers found.

The 2012 study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

5. Acrobatic tail

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Lizards lose their tails to distract would-be predators.

Once the gecko loses its tail, the tail doesn't just lie there. It can flip, jump, swing and lunge for up to 30 minutes following separation, according to a 2010 study in the journal Biology Letters.

The researchers studied how the tail pulls off these acrobatics. The signals responsible for the movements are in a piece of spinal cord at the end of the tail, they found. When the tail is still attached to the body, nerve signals from the gecko's brain likely override this control centre, the researchers said.

6. Sticky feet

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Setae of Uroplatus sameiti (gecko). Credit: Hexasoft/Wikimedia Commons.

Geckos' feet are supersticky when the air is humid, researchers discovered in 2010.

Humidity can make geckos' setae softer and more deformable, the researchers found. Hence, muggy weather allows the geckos to "glue" themselves to surfaces better than they can in drier weather, according to the 2010 study, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Several experiments showed that high humidity allowed the geckos to make a strong connection between the setae and the surface, and it also allowed the lizards to peel their feet away with ease.

Top image: A gecko in a small glass enclosure inside the temporary tropical butterfly exhibition outside the Natural History Museum in London. Credit: Keith Marshall/Flickr.

[Source: Live Science. Edited. Some images added.]

Monday, 30 March 2015

TASTY TECH EYE CANDY OF THE WEEK XLIII


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Tasty Tech Eye Candy Of The Week (March 29)
By Tracy Staedter,
Discovery News, 29 March 2015.

This week we look at new ways to roll around, fly around, float around and dive around.

1. Jet Reptile

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The compact water-craft, Jet Reptile, comes from Jet Capsule, a company that has had success in the mini-yacht market. Who knew there was such a market? Although small, the Reptile can seat eight to 12 passengers and speed them along with its MV8 engine at 57.5 miles per hour (50 knots). Fully customizable, a Reptile can be all yours for US$282,000.

2. Supersonic Plane

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This week, Russian news media, RT, reported that the country was investing in a transport plane that could carry 181 tons, fly at supersonic speeds and travel 4,350 miles without refuelling. Construction of the PAK TA - for Perspective Airborne Complex of Transport Aviation - could get underway by 2024 with a fleet ready to go by 2030. [Video]

3. Tricity 03GEN

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Back in 2013, Yamaha showed off its new three-wheeler, the Tricity, at the Tokyo Motor Show. Since then, the company has been evolving the vehicle. The latest iteration is the 03GEN concept. The 03GENf is designed with a future racing theme. Another one called the 03GENx has rugged wheels for off-roading. No details about the engine have been released yet. In the meantime, enjoy this short video showing off the designs.

4. Leaptech Wing

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NASA began testing an electric plane concept that gets its power from 18 motors on the wings. The Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology - called LEAPTech - reduces drag for an efficient, steady flight using wings that are one-third the size of conventional aircraft wings. [Video]

5. Supertruck

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Millions of products are shipped across the United States by semi-truck. On average, these huge vehicles get six or seven miles to the gallon. But thanks to a US$40 million Federal grant, Daimler has created the SuperTruck, which in a recent road test, averaged 12.2 mpg on a 312-mile Texas highway between San Antonio and Dallas. That could save millions of dollars in gasoline and reduce emissions. [More at US Department of Energy and Autoblog]

6. Bionic Ants

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German robotics company Festo is known for its animal-inspired robots. One of their latest creations is BionicAnt, a small robot meant to mimic the way insect societies work together toward a common goal.

7. Dive Suit

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A new diving suit made for people diving at depths deeper than 100 feet is being developed by US Navy scientists. At those depths, the naturally occurring nitrogen in compressed air tanks has to be replaced with a different gas because nitrogen becomes dangerous. Most tanks use helium, but that gas has its problems, too. Among the biggest is that large amounts of helium are required, so much so, that the diver must be tethered to a surface support ship. This new suit has a rebreather that recycles the otherwise exhaled air so that rescuers can stay underwater longer.

8. Nanotech Bottle

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After 15 years of research and development, a water bottle filter is available that doesn't use electricity, pumps or chemicals to purify water. The Naked Filter bottle from Liquidity uses a filter with extremely small holes that let clean water through, while trapping microbes such E. coli and salmonella. The project is currently a Kickstarter that has almost reached its goal.

9. Wave Energy

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Below the surface of the ocean off the coast of Perth, Australia, are three wave power generators doing double duty. Known collectively as CETO 5 (from Carnegie Wave Energy), each 240-kilowatt buoy bobs up and down pushing pressurized water through turbines to generate electricity. At the same time, the energy is used to power a desalination water system.

10. Bluetooth Lock

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The Quicklock from SafeTech Products is about to become the world's first Bluetooth padlock for consumers. No key or combination is necessary. This lock works with a phone app and a single control button on the screen that locks or unlocks the device. Easy peasy.

Top image: The PAK TA supersonic cargo plane. Credit: Aleksey Komarov via Vimeo.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Top image and some links added.]